British Library’s Catalog of Illuminated Manuscripts Generous Permissions

Image from a Haggadah showing a seder table.

Detail of a Seder table from BL Additional 14761 f.-28v

The British Library began the digital catalog in 1997. Currently the catalog provides a digital record of 4,231 different manuscript, and  includes 35,661 images those manuscripts, with a searchable database. The images were scanned following the best digital practices, and include provenance, metadata, and in many cases, detailed images.

Today they announced extraordinarily generous permissions for use of those images:



Technically these works are still in copyright in the UK until 2040, but given that they are anonymous and many centuries old, the Library has decided to provide the images on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts under a Public Domain Mark and treat them as public domain works, as would be the case in many other countries.

For more information, please see the library’s use and reuse policy for CIM.  We ask that you maintain the library’s Public Domain tag, and provide a link or other credit back to the image’s source on the British Library’s site – help us share these riches even more widely with the world.

I’m absolutely delighted by this news. The British Library and its staff have made it extraordinarily simple to search for a particular MS. by name or shelf number. You can also search by  Keyword or perform advanced searches related to specific characteristics of the manuscript or its illumination including MSS. or images from a given region or time period, or even of a particular subject matter.

Here is the front door to the British Library’s Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

I especially want to draw attention to The British Library’s requests regarding reuse of their digital manuscript images. These requests are in the best traditions of libraries and scholarship:

  • Please respect the creators – ensure traditional cultural expressions and all ethical concerns in the use of the material are considered, and any information relating to the creator is clear and accurate. Please note, any adaptations made to an item should not be attributed to the original creator and should not be derogatory to the originating cultures or communities.
  • Please credit the source of the material—providing a link back to the image on the British Library’s website will encourage others to explore and use the collections.
    Please share knowledge where possible—please annotate, tag and share derivative works with others as well as the Library wherever possible.
  • Support the Public Domain – users of public domain works are asked to support the efforts of the Library to care for, preserve, digitise and make public domain works available. This support could include monetary contributions or work in kind, particularly when the work is being used for commercial or other for-profit purposes.
  • Please preserve all public domain marks and notices attached to the works – this will notify other users that the images are free from copyright restrictions and encourage greater use of the collection.

This is a fabulous resource and a great way to learn all sorts of things. I’ll be taking full advantage!

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